Poker: Bad Beat fever

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The big news in Atlantic City poker this week was the size of the Bad Beat Bonus at the Trump Taj Mahal. A bad beat is when you have a really good hand that SHOULD win, but get beaten by an even better hand. A Bad Beat Bonus is a pool of money collected in small amounts from every game of Hold-em at every table in the casino, which builds up into an ever larger sum as time goes by. Different rules apply to what qualiifies to win the pool at various casinos, but here’s how it works at the Taj. First, at least four people have to be in the hand. Second, at least $20 has to be in the pot. Then, if you have four of a kind and are beaten by a higher four of a kind, or a straight flush, your table wins the bonus. Also, if you have a straight flush and are beaten by a higher straight flush. Further, your two hole cards have to be part of the hand in question, so having three aces in the community cards on the table and the fourth ace in your own hand doesn’t count. Now, all those hands are remarkably rare, so getting two up against each other is astronomically high odds, but it does happen, and the Bonus is usually won once in about every two week period on average. In the picture above, one player has four aces, and is beat by a straight flush, for example. (And you have to feel bad for the other players who all have full houses!) As for the payout, the player who is Bad Beaten gets half the bonus, the player he beats one quarter, and the remaining quarter is split among all the other players who were in the hand at some point, still quite a nice piece of cash!

So, the big news was that the Bonus HADN’T been won at the Taj in about a month, making the value over $670,000 as of today. I had some time, and I decided to go play for a few hours. (No, I didn’t win the bonus!) I played 2-4 Limit, a Hold-em game I haven’t played in a few years, as I usually prefer No-Limit. In Limit, as you might imagine, your betting is constrained. This means it takes a lot longer to lose your entire stack of chips, conversely a lot longer to build up a winning stack. I decided to play that game because I was pretty much assured a seat at a table for as long as I wanted to play, while with No-Limit I might have lost my entire bankroll on one hand.

The difficulty in winning Limit is that it doesn’t cost that much for a player to stay in a hand until all five community cards are dealt. An average hand with no raises costs you $12, so even a marginal hand is often worth staying for, unless people start raising. Sometimes everyone checks around, making it even cheaper. So, it’s quite common for a lousy hand to blossom into a winning straight or flush. The first hour or more I was getting all low cards, no pairs, and I played some, but lost steadily. Then I finally got a pair of pocket Aces…and lost to two pair. Things tend to even out over time, and in the last hour and a half my luck changed. I started getting winning hands, bringing my stack back up to where I started (from down $100 at one point), and then ahead, finishing up winning $46. Not much for almost four hours of play, but it sure beats losing. No one claimed the Bad Beat Bonus while I was there. It was fun to see the crowds trying, though. As one dealer said, lately at the Taj, every minute is like their average Saturday night, with nearly every table in the poker room full, and a line waiting to be seated. Good for the casino, the dealers and even the players, I think, at least those who know what they’re doing. I’ll be watching the Atlantic City Press to see when the Bonus is claimed, and how much the total is. Hope it isn’t a few minutes after I left, at my table!

UPDATE: And here’s the winner, in a story in this morning’s AC Press. Looks like I didn’t miss seeing it happen by much!

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